Essentials

Youth ministry resource review: Responding to nooma

Some people are saying that nooma is "a revolutionary product that is changing the way people experience spirituality" 1. Others say it's a tool of Satan, subtly luring people from the truth. So what is nooma and how should we respond?

nooma is a series of DVD's produced by Rob Bell from the USA that are 15 minute discussion starters on a number of different topics. I've seen two of them – Rain (responding to hardship and suffering) and Flame (about love).

Flame is about the three different words for love in Hebrew that are used in Song of Songs – companionship, commitment and sex. Rob Bell describes these three loves as three flames and builds to his major point that the flames were meant to burn together, to create 'the big flame'. Sex was made to be enjoyed together with companionship and commitment. The finale sees Bell light the mother of all bonfires and the point is rammed home: don't miss out on the big flame.

These are pieces of absolutely engaging visual communication. They are well scripted, carefully directed and expertly produced. They're perhaps a vast improvement on many a youth group talk – planned on the run, built around the latest funny story, with a stray Bible verse conscripted into service.

Tim Keller and Redeemer Presbyterian

Tim Keller and Redeemer Presbyterian: A Preaching Phenomenon in the Secular City

Can you imagine being turned away from your own church, because the building is full? This is the bittersweet scenario often faced at Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York, where Tim Keller is the regular preacher. It is especially surprising given that Redeemer only began as a church plant in 1989 and has now grown to four services each Sunday, with about 6,000 attending.

Tim Keller's preaching is engaging, lively and personal. It is relaxed, but not casual. He is extraordinarily well prepared. The preaching is confident, yet self-deprecating rather than triumphalistic. And it is poetic: the 5.45pm sermon on the 18 June, 2006 climaxed with verses from two classical hymns and a Lucy Shaw poem, all set in a brilliantly poetic conclusive section.

The sermons are expository, though not as tightly so as those of John Stott and Dick Lucas. This frustrates some evangelicals. Rather, Keller's preaching oozes the whole Bible, deeply grounded in biblical theology and Reformed systematics. Further, it more obviously engages with the academic and popular philosophers, writers and poets of this world, especially those honored by New Yorkers. As such, the sermons are evangelistic, pastoral, apologetic, and prophetic, in that order. Keller is plainly aware many in the congregation have not yet made a profession of faith and are being progressively drawn by the Spirit.

A Preaching Series on Promoting the Gospel

In 2005, John Dickson released Promoting the Gospel: A Practical Guide to the Biblical Art of Sharing your Faith (Blue Bottle Books). John recalls that as a young teenager, recently saved, he was a passionate promoter of the Christian message. He remembers at that time he "had absolutely no idea Christians could be coy about their faith" (7). That soon changed when he attended a church course on 'personal evangelism.' He became self conscious as to whether he was getting the gospel presentation 'right' and his "joy and ability at passing on the Faith evaporated" (8). John rediscovered his original joy in sharing his faith by simply approaching gospel opportunities as a "friendly conversation about my favourite topic" (10) without feeling the necessity to unload a full gospel presentation in every situation. He comments that "most Christians are not 'evangelists' (in the biblical sense of the word) and should not be made to feel the pressure to act as if they were" (11).

Indeed, 'word ministry' is just one of numerous activities identified in Scripture that promote Christ and draw others toward Him. Evangelism (proclaiming the gospel) is a 'subset' of a broader category of promoting the gospel. Other subsets include prayer, godly behaviour, acts of compassion and mercy, financial assistance, answering people's questions and public praise. A key aim of Promoting the Gospel is to show the all-encompassing nature of the Bible's call to be involved in God's mission. All Christians are called to, and gifted by the Holy Spirit, to promote the gospel.

Book review: Turning Around the Mainline

Book review: Turning Around the Mainline: How Renewal Movements are Changing the Church; Thomas C. Oden, Baker, 2006, 272p $US17.99

Oden's latest book is key for anyone interested in the renewal of Protestant mainline churches. As a resource, it chronicles the recent history of the renewal and confessing movements in the US and Canada and celebrates their coming together, theologically and organisationally, in what Oden terms a "new ecumenism of orthodox Christian teaching after the collapse of modernity" (208). Oden includes evangelical groups within the renewal movement, but downplays their contribution in favour of "classical ecumenical teaching" (208). In "boring but important" chapters Oden provides examples of orthodox theological statements and of legal argument relating to the trust of property according to the discipline of the church. He helpfully discusses the place of discipline, and of church and civil courts.

For orthodox Christians, the book is a great encouragement. Oden records the perseverance of faithful groups with few resources in the face of plain unfaithfulness by well resourced denominational leaders pursuing their own agendas (16). He names the way denominational headquarters have marginalized these groups by calling them fundamentalists, old-fashioned, exclusive or obstructive. He gives a clear call on theological and prudential grounds to stay and steward God's great heritage in the mainline (27-34). However, unity must be based on truth, and heresy disciplined (103-119). Amiable separation with entitlements is urged for those who cannot assent to doctrinal foundations. An excellent chapter (179-196) on confessing and its noble history challenged me to make this more integral to church life.

Paul's Perspectives on the Righteousness of God

One of the important issues of recent times is the 'new perspective' on Paul (the name Professor Dunn gave it in 1983).

I want to look at Paul's own perspective on something, the righteousness of God, focusing on Galatians.

Let me make four preliminary observations.

First, the word 'righteousness' and its brother word, 'justified' are law court words. For example, in 1 Cor 4:4 Paul speaks about the Corinthians' 'judgement' about his ministry where he says,'I am not aware of anything against myself, but I am not thereby acquitted (Greek: justified').

Paul uses this language to describe the relationship with God of those who are (in Paul's words) 'in Christ', Christian believers. He says that they are 'justified' (= 'acquitted').

The passive voice means that if I am 'justified' it means that someone else has 'justified' me, and that someone else is God. So: to be 'justified' means to be 'acquitted', acquitted by God.

Godly integrity + Godly relationships = Godly influence

Godly integrity + Godly relationships = Godly influence
A reflection from a country archdeacon

I have now been ordained just over 21 years. All of my ordained life has been served in the Diocese of Bendigo. I now find myself as the Archdeacon of Bendigo and Vicar General of the Diocese. This involves me being in regular contact with the Bishop, being on a wide range of diocesan committees, offering pastoral support to various clergy as well as the leadership of one of the few growing parishes in our diocese.

Over the years, it has felt at times that I have been serving two masters. Sometimes the diocesan demands have meant that I haven't devoted the time needed to grow the parish as quickly as I would have liked. At other times my serving in the parish has led to frustration at a diocesan level where I have not had enough time to think clearly through key issues.

Preaching from Acts

The Lure of the Story

As a preacher, I always have to resist the temptation of preaching from biblical narratives, either Old Testament or New Testament. I love them. Well, I just love stories generally. Actually, most of us do. From kids to 'prime timers', Christians love the stories of the Bible. Why, even Hollywood loves them as it regularly presents the stories of Moses, David, Esther, and the passion of the Christ on both the big and the small screen.

Stories have a universal appeal. Just watch people on trains or planes passing the time reading the latest Grisham or Clancy. Wise journalists often present a news item by beginning with a story. A report on the latest Middle East conflict, or a plane crash, or stem cell research will often begin with a human-interest story about someone affected by the particular issue.

So, I don't need to be convinced to preach from books like Acts because the battle in gaining and maintaining audience interest is already half-won.

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